Jack's eyelids fluttered as he struggled to open his eyes against the harsh sunlight coming through the hotel window. His head felt as if it were about to burst and he was shaky and nauseous, but he didn't feel hot anymore. At least the fever broke, he thought. As his eyes focused, Jack realized that he wasn't in his room anymore. What he thought was the sun was actually some sort of artificial light suspended closely above where he lay. "Am I in the hospital?" Jack wondered aloud.
"No, you are in my spare sleeping chamber," said a gravelly voice that could have been human.
Jack sat up with a start and banged his aching head on the lamp. It made an angry beeping sound as it floated to the corner of the room. Rubbing his head, Jack took in his surroundings. He knew he had never been here before, yet it all seemed so familiar. He was lying on some sort of bed that was hovering a few feet off the floor. The room was empty with the exception of the lamp and a hulking form standing in the shadows. The walls and ceiling were dark and smooth but Jack could make out faint lines and shapes just under the surface.
"Who...who are you?" Jack asked nervously. "I can't see you."
The being stepped into the light. Jack immediately recognized Draephas, his favorite action figure from his Xebolis series of toys. Shocked, he slowly reached into his pajama pants pocket and took out the figure he always carried with him. Jack held it up and looked back and forth between the plastic and flesh versions of his humanoid alien. They were identical! The living Draephas was close to 6 1/2 feet tall, his muscular frame concealed behind dull black armor. A pair of two foot long horns rose up and out from the sides of his full face battle helmet. Draephas looked precisely as Jack had drawn him many years before.
"Oh, man, I'm sicker than I thought," Jack moaned. "That fever cooked my brain and I'm hallucinating!" He shut his eyes tightly and lay back down with a flop.
"Get up, Jack. We have no time for games," Draephas growled. He motioned to the lamp and it quickly took its place above the bed. Jack squinted under the glare as he raised himself up on one elbow.
"No time? No time for what?" Jack asked incredulously. "Why am I asking you? You're not even real!"
"Yes I am, and you know it. Look inside yourself if you don't believe me." Draephas marched over to Jack and grabbed the action figure from his hand. "Where do you think this came from?"
"A factory in China," Jack sneered.
Draephas slammed his sizable fist down on the bed, scaring Jack into a sitting position. He leaned in close to the startled toymaker.
"I am no fool, so do not treat me as such," the alien hissed. "You know damned well what I mean." He stepped back and stood facing Jack, massive arms folded across his barrel chest. Silence filled the room as Jack gathered himself and thought hard. After a moment, he spoke.
"I was in my workshop late one night sculpting a prototype for a new figure. I got sleepy so put my head in my arms on the table and took a quick nap. When I woke up, I grabbed my sketch pad and a pencil and drew...you," Jack finished with a puzzled look.
Draephas dropped his arms and began to pace slowly around the room. Several times he halted and began to speak, then shook his head and continued walking. It was some time before Draephas stopped again.
"I was hoping you would know more about here. It would save much time if you did, and time is precious," Draephas explained. "We do not have the luxury of lengthy conversations."
"This is really happening, isn't it?" Jack asked softly. Draephas nodded in affirmation. "So, I'm not feverish in a hotel room in Beijing. Instead, I am in a...sleeping chamber...having a chat with an alien I created. Am I right?"
"Not exactly, Jack. It is true that what you are experiencing is real. However, you did not create me. You beheld me in your sleep and sketched what you saw when you awoke. For reasons I do not fully understand yet, you are connected to our dimension. It seems that when you sleep that link can strengthen enough to give you sight into our realm."
Jack took a deep breath, letting it out in a rush of air. "All these years I thought my characters and stories were products of my imagination. Come to find out I'm nothing but an inter-dimensional plagiarist?" He abruptly swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. This time the lamp was prepared and scooted back into the corner before Jack could head butt it a second time.
Jack laced his fingers behind his head and sighed. "I understand what you've told me so far. I'm not sure why I understand it, but I do. What I don't get is how I ended up here."
"Your guess is as good as mine," Draephas replied. "Perhaps Tarthiun can tell us. It is he who told me of you."
"Tarthiun the Shaman? But he is evil!" Jack's expression turned to one of distrust. Keeping his eyes on Draephas, Jack put the bed between himself and the alien. "What's going on here? Am I your prisoner?"